Winter is upon us in the Pacific Northwest, and that means it is time for a unique winter past time – storm watching. Yes, just like tornado chasers who follow twisters and suffers who go where the wave action is, there is a select group of people that pack up their bags and head to the coast during a raging tempest.
Winter storms bring an onslaught of rain, wind, and waves. If you are a traveler that only wants sunny days on your vacation, this isn’t the type of adventure for you. But, if you are looking for a unique experience that shows off the might of Mother Nature, then a storm-watching getaway along the coast of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia is for you.
Here are some tips to on how to storm watch like a pro and make the most of the experience.
(Photo credit (above): Long Beach Peninsula
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A storm in Lincoln City, Oregon. Photo credit: Cherise Glaze
How to Storm Watch Like a Pro in the Pacific Northwest
How to Pick Storm Watching Location and Lodging
There are a handful of excellent places to storm watch along the coast in the Pacific Northwest. Choosing the right location for storm watching and staying in lodging that takes in the storm from the comfort of your room is the first step in how to storm watch like a pro.
Storm watching tip: Some hotels only feature storm watching specials when a storm is on its way. Give them a call to find out!
Where to Storm Watch in British Columbia
One of the best places to watch winter storms is on West Vancouver Island in British Columbia in the small towns of Tofino or Ucluelet. Completely open to the Pacific Ocean, this area features miles of rugged and rocky coastline and picturesque sandy beaches. Each year, this area gets around a dozen winter storms, and people fly in from all over the world for the experience. Waves are known to roll or rather crash in at 20 feet, sometimes higher. It is so popular in this area that Tourism Tofino has a section of their website dedicated to this wintertime pastime.
Cox Bay Beach is a great spot for storm watching. Photo credit: Pacific Sands Beach Resort
Tofino and Ucluelet are a 40-minute drive from each other. Places of note for storm watching are:
- Chesterman Beach (Tofino)
- Cox Bay Beach (Tofino)
- The deck of the Kwisitis Visitor Centre in Pacific Rim National Park (mid-way between the two towns)
- Amphitrite Point Lighthouse and nearby points along the trail (Ucluelet)
Getting to this part of the Island may mean a ferry ride, a flight or a 4.5-hour drive from Victoria. While it does take some time and money (if you have to fly or take the ferry) to get here, it is worth it.
Where to stay in Tofino for storm watching:
- The Wickaninnish Inn
- Pacific Sands Beach Resort
- Lodge Beach Lodge Resort
- Best Western Tin Wis Resort
Where to stay in Ucluelet for storm watching:
Some of these hotels offer regular storm watching packages with amenities such as binoculars and rain jackets.
Many hotels, like Pacific Sands Beach Resort, have lodging perfect for storm watching. Photo credit: Pacific Sands Beach Resort
Where to Storm Watch in Washington State
Washington’ss southwest coast with its mix of long stretches of beach and rocky outcropping is perfect for taking in winter storms. Places of note are:
- North Jetty, Benson Beach, and Waikiki Beach at Cape Disappointment State Park (Ilwaco)
- Long Beach (Long Beach)
- Rialto Beach (Forks)
- North Beach (Moclips)
- First Beach (La Push)
- Chito Beach (Sekiu)
- Westport Observation Platform, Tower and Jetty (Westport)
Waikiki Beach is a favorite spot year-round for seeing waves crash in Long Beach, Washington. Photo credit: Long Beach Peninsula
Where to Stay in Washington to storm watch:
- Kalaloch Lodge (Forks)
- Quileute Oceanside Resort (La Push)
- Inn at Discovery Coast, or its sister hotel Adrift Hotel + Spa (Long Beach)
- Hi-Tide Ocean Beach Resort (Moclips)
- Chito Beach Resort (Sekiu)
- Westport Marina Cottages (Westport)
These hotels are near or on the beach.
Want to read about more storm watching hotels?
The Inn at Discovery Coast is steps away from the beach and the Discovery Trail. Photo credit: Inn at the Discovery Coast
Where to Storm Watch in Oregon
The Oregon Coast is one of my favorites in good weather and bad. For storm watching, it has many destinations along the roadside that include rocky outcrops, wooded headlands, and beaches for taking in the gall forces. Some places of note are:
- Fort Stevens State Park at the mouth of Columbia River
- Cape Mears south of Tillamook Bay
- Lincoln City Beach
- Cannon Beach
- Manzanita Beach
- Yachats State Recreation Area
- Boiler Bay State Viewpoint
- Smelt Sands State Park
If you don’t want to venture too far from town, Cannon Beach, Lincoln City, Yachats, Seaside, Manzanita, Depoe Bay, and even Astoria which is along the Columbia River, provide great storm-watching opportunities, and most have beaches with prime viewing.
The Oregon Coast provids many opportunities for storm watching. Photo credit Bob Gibson
Where to Stay in Oregon to storm watch:
- Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa (Astoria)
- Stephanie Inn (Cannon Beach)
- Whale Cove Inn (Depot Bay)
- The Coho Oceanfront Lodge (Lincoln City)
- Inn at Manzanita (Manzanita)
- Best Western Plus Ocean View Resort (Seaside)
- Overleaf Lodge & Spa (Yachats)
All of these hotels, but one (Inn at Manzanita) have ocean and beach views. The Inn at Manzanita has some rooms with partial ocean views and is a short walk to the beach. If you do want a place next to the beach, there is the Sunset Surf Motel.
Set atop a bluff, The Coho Oceanfront Lodge, gives storm watchers a unique vantage point.
How to be Safe While Storm Watching
Mother Nature is not to be trifled with, and if you plan to do outside storm watching, you’ll need to keep these safety tips in mind.
- Sleeper waves are real. Never turn your back on the ocean.
- Do not go into the water and avoid standing near the water’s edge.
- Don’t walk or stand near piles of driftwood as waves can toss large pieces of wood with ease, and you along with it.
- Avoid standing on tidal rocks as waves can come in and knock you down or pull you out.
How to Pack Like a Storm Watching Pro
With storms comes rain, wind and flying sand. If you plan to walk the beach, trails or go outside to viewing points dressing for warmth and comfort is a must. There are two essential items, a rain jacket, and rain boots. Rain pants are also nice, but not necessary. These will help protect you from the elements. I would also recommend dressing in layers, wearing a knit hat, gloves, and warm socks. Items to have handy are binoculars and a camera.
How to Know When a Storm is on the Way
If you are not a local and therefore not privy to the local weather forecast, researching when a storm is on the move takes a little work. Thankfully, online resources, such as Northwest Weather Network, National Weather Service, Northwest Regional Weather Radar, and AccuWeather make this easy to do. Keep in mind that generally the prime storm watching months are November through March, so you’ll want to check the weather during these times.
That wraps up my tips on how to storm watch like a pro.
Do you have any storm watching tips to share?